Your Favorite Social Media Apologists Are Probably Jerks, Idiots, or (More Than Likely) Both

Chris Brogan faced heavy criticism from fellow “social media” marketers and the anti-“social media” crowd for holding this Google+ Webinar- and rightfully so.

The most important part of Brogan’s response to the mutiny he faced among his fellow marketers, for our purposes, was this: “I’m not selling to [author and marketing strategist] Geoff Livingston. I’m not selling to [social media professional and blogger] Danny Brown. I’m not selling to all the people whose panties are all in a bunch because I’ve chosen to sell information on how to use Google+ for your business. You’re not my buyer.”

He’s right. “Social media” and “social media” skeptics aren’t his buyer. But that doesn’t justify taking advantage of people who don’t know any better by selling them bullshit. Unfortunately, Brogan’s response to criticism, in this instance, heavily mirrors the kind of response you’ll see whenever marketers and other Cyber Hipsters are called out. In addition to calling you a dinosaur, they’ll use faulty logic to justify their actions- sort of like an arsonist who burns down your house because he thought you needed a new one. When those tactics fail, they will react with an all-out assault- on you, your family, everything you do- in the hopes that it’ll distract people and take the heat off of them…

Everyone is your friend on the Internet until you say something they don’t like. Just ask Malcolm Gladwell.

Since The Tipping Point came out, Internet marketers have pushed the ideas presented in that book relentlessly while praising Gladwell. That was until February 2011, when Gladwell wrote a piece on the New Yorker’s News Desk blog called “Does Egypt Need Twitter.” Gladwell’s argument was that the vehicle behind the message wasn’t as important as the message and its origins. In other words, how the people in Egypt were coordinating their protests didn’t matter, what mattered was that they were protesting and why they were protesting. This is a continuation of an argument Gladwell started in his New Yorker piece, “Small Change: Why the Revolution Will Not Be Tweeted.” There he stated that activism doesn’t need “social media” to occur, and that, while the Web creates “weak ties,” offline ties that are useful, strong, and organized are needed for anything to really happen.

I agree with the broader points that Gladwell is making: The use of things like Twitter and Facebook are overhyped and are often distorted, as I’ve laid out for you. You’re seeing the first wired generation take out their frustrations about the mess the world is in using the tools they grew up with. The fact that they’re using Twitter and Facebook is incidental- to them. But as Evgeny Morozov points out in his book The Net Delusion, the use of these tools is a big deal to the older generations, particularly the baby boomers, because it fits into a narrow worldview that they’ve been using to explain revolutionary changes that have occurred since the Soviet Union collapsed…

After Gladwell’s Egypt piece ran, the fun started. Everyone whose business interests could be hurt by Gladwell’s comments, from the founders of Twitter, to an investor in foursquare, down to Gladwell’s former Internet marketer fans, proceeded to flip out. And these people flipped in the fashion of the Web: by insulting you, your argument, your credibility, with as little evidence as needed. Hence: Attack and Distract.

So, for instance:

  • Insults: The cofounders of Twitter told GigaOM’s Liz Gannes that Gladwell’s piece was, “laughable,” “absurd,” “ludicrous,” and “pointless.”
  • Attacks on the quality of your work: In Gladwell’s case, that his piece was well written but offers nothing new or of substance. Which is a clever way to dismiss an argument, but does nothing to refute it.
  • The red herring: This is a deliberate attempt to evade the point being raised or cloud the issue. In his blog post on the matter, Chris Dixon, cofounder of Hunch and a personal investor in foursquare, ducked answering whether or not Gladwell was right. Instead, Dixon suggested Gladwell didn’t know what he was talking about because he doesn’t use Twitter and that the Twitter Gladwell refers to isn’t “the Twitter that I know.” Dixon then goes on to point out how the connections he made on Twitter have been useful for him. A lot of you may know the red herring better as the “Chewbacca Defense.”…
  • Michael Jacksons to Iron Maiden (Apples to Oranges): Twitter cofounder Biz Stone, writing for The Atlantic, talked about the impact Twitter has had on Chinese politics on the “micro-level.” Specifically, Stone took issue with Gladwell, in his pieces on Egypt and the ineffectiveness of “social media” at large to bring about real change in the world, saying there needed to be a strong, organized, networked, offline movement with a central leader or leadership to enact real change. Stone argues that this is no longer the case because activists could do similar things via platforms like Twitter. But here’s the problem: Contrary to Stone’s claim, nothing has changed in China, and beyond a superficial level, and at the time of this writing, not much has changed in Egypt either.

Comparing China to Egypt, and the actions of activists in those countries, is also a Michael Jackson to Iron Maiden approach, especially when you consider the role of Al-Jazeera in promoting the protests, and the minimal role of the Egyptian military in disrupting them, during the time of the protests. This is compared to China’s authoritarian censorship over the media and their active military and police role in quelling protests. But by comparing the two, Stone tries to demonstrate that Gladwell’s argument is wrong despite plenty of evidence to the contrary. It’s also worth noting a few other facts here about Twitter and Biz Stone: 1. Biz Stone is no longer associated with Twitter and, much like Sean Parker, his role at the company and developing the service remains a mystery. 2. Twitter is banned in China. 3. In January 2012 Twitter announced localized censorship of Tweets, meaning if a Chinese activist, using the service illegally in China, posts something, then other people in China can’t see what they’re posting, but Americans can. So… I’m not quite sure anyone can make the argument that Twitter is helping to cause real change on the “micro-level” Stone was talking about. It’s kind of hard to change the status quo when the people your messages were meant for can’t even see them.
(B.J. Mendelson, Social Media Is Bullshit [New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2012], pp. 109-110, 113-116)

 

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